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  • Writer's pictureAngus Stewart

4G fixed location data under threat?

Mobile data to fixed premises under threat

With the proliferation of Starlink as a broadband connection method in rural areas, the future of 4G mobile data in fixed locations could be under threat. UK users of these mobile data services can already experience slow speeds and outages at peak times, but if the carriers start to actively discourage non-mobile customers, what happens then?

T-Mobile in the US has already updated its policy for home broadband users, introducing a new threshold for data prioritization. Starting January 18, 2024, new T-Mobile Home Internet customers who consume more than 1.2 terabytes (TB) of data in a billing cycle will be given lower priority on the network. This change was first reported by The Mobile Report, a blog that monitors the activities of the Bellevue, Washington-based carrier.

The policy adjustment means that once a user exceeds the 1.2TB limit, their data traffic will be deprioritized compared to other users. However, this is not a significant change from the previous policy, which already placed home broadband users in the same priority category as "Heavy Data" mobile users. Heavy Data mobile users are defined as those who use over 100GB per month on most current unlimited plans or over 50GB on some older plans.

T-Mobile's statement clarified that less than 10% of its home broadband customers exceed the 1.2TB mark, which is more than double the average subscriber's usage. Those who do surpass this limit may experience slower speeds during network congestion, but the company did not specify whether customers would receive a warning as they approach the threshold. The deprioritization resets at the start of the next billing cycle.

The company's home broadband service has been popular for its uncapped data, a key selling point that has attracted millions of customers away from cable operators with data caps. T-Mobile's CEO Mike Sievert emphasized the importance of uncapped data in an interview with PCMag in May 2022.

In the UK, mobile carriers have not explicitly announced policies similar to T-Mobile's recent decision to deprioritize heavy data users of its home 5G service. The UK's telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, has been focusing on creating conditions for providers to increase the rollout of full-fibre broadband and 5G coverage, which was available to 82% of premises outdoors as of January 2023.

The UK market has seen a significant increase in average data use, with a 266% rise noted in 2022 compared to 2017. Despite this, the average list price of a mobile service, based on average use, was 33% lower in real terms in 2022 than in 2017.

This suggests that while data usage is increasing, UK providers are not necessarily implementing measures like deprioritization to manage network traffic.

Ofcom's regulations ensure that customers are provided with realistic information regarding their broadband connection and are treated fairly by their provider. This includes the process of switching providers, which has been made easier and is estimated to save mobile customers collectively an estimated £10.6m per year.

The UK government has set a target for gigabit broadband to be available to 85% of the UK by 2025 and nationwide by 2030. This focus on improving broadband infrastructure and availability, rather than managing network traffic through measures like deprioritization, seems to be the current trend in the UK market.

While these US developments do not indicate any direct threats to UK-based users of mobile data in fixed locations it may foreshadow changes in the mobile market outside the US. UK-based users should always be vigilant about their data security and privacy, but the issues raised in these articles gives reason to be circumspect about the future of mobile data in fixed locations.


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